You might think that “Hey, Yay, Way” is a Chinese restaurant in my neighborhood and this post is about Schezwan food, which I love. You would be correct if the restaurant actually existed and was owned by “zoomers” (born late 1990s to early 2000s). But this post has to do with language, not takeout. And I write it not to make fun of people but to point out how English, the global lingua franca, is changing right before our eyes (ears). Incidentally, “lingua franca” sounds like something you’d find at a Louisiana hot link stand, but that’s another story.
I am very sensitive to language, although not much else (so I have been told). So, when in the space of one, short email I came across all three words (hey, yay, way), each denoting a different part of speech, I sat up, took note, and finished reading the email, which I don’t do normally. I get a lot of emails. I usually look at the subject line and then either trash it, or deposit it into one of numerous folders, figuring that some other responsible party on the thread will respond. I like to think of myself as a responsible person, just not in the technical sense, which is to say I am irresponsive, not responsive.
This doesn’t mean I don’t care. It’s just that I am trying to create a more efficient way of working and being. There are too many words and too much emotional processing as it is (see Enough Said, especially if you like French films from the sixties). If you think processed foods are bad, how can processed words, conversations, interactions, and relationships be any better? I am all for the less is better movement. Actually, I’m not sure that is a movement, but I remember reading about minimalism, people living in train cars à la Maude in Harold and Maude, and closets that bring you joy. I could be wrong about any or all of that, but I like the concept.
The English language is changing. In addition to my Schezwan restaurant, I hear a lot of “super,” “awesome,” and “boujee.” These words may have existed twenty or even thirty years ago, but people use them in different ways now. I also overhear words that are completely made up like “stan,” “yeet,” and “periodt.” I’m not sure how to pronounce that last one, but if you capitalize the p it would look German. These are all zoomer additions to the language, but it’s anybody’s guess as to whether or not they will stick.
Older people (you know, millennials) are open to using them, especially the less trendy terms like “pressed” or “send me.” But then millennials are often taken with business jargon, which I’ve bored you with by now since I’ve written about it so many times (see “At the End of the Day”). I’m even planning another post soon called “Looping, Roping, Circling Back.” That’s what happens when you work in a business school.
Pronunciation is a problem. In addition to the usual suspects of vocal fry (i.e., “croak throat”), upspeak (I blame The Beach Boys. See Down with Upspeak?), and regional differences (e.g., the Starbuck’s coffee I ordered in Kentucky that had “Robbit” on it), I have a hard time keeping up with people’s speech. They talk too fast and garble their words. Again, I was the one who said “Robbit” for Robert when they asked my name, so I can’t blame the crew at Starbuck’s in Bowling Green, Kentucky. In fact, they were all very nice as they stared at me in my tuxedo (see Three Little Words). I generally mean younger people who speak rapidly and swallow their words. You’d think I would have gotten used to that living for a time in Maryland, but that hasn’t happened.
Again, there is a business version of mispronunciation, although the problem isn’t mispronunciation but people stringing together bits of information in ways that have little or no concrete reality. I watch their lips move but get lost in the minutiae. This happened just the other day when someone was describing contract law to me. It reminded me of the last law school class I sat in on years ago on the topic of estoppels. I thought they were talking about a horse race.
It’s getting harder to figure out what people are trying to tell me. Yet, I still hold to the belief that if you can’t explain it to a fifth grader, you don’t really know it yourself. Help me, Professor Feynman.
Image credits: feature by Arno Senoner; two girls by Shingi Rice. Like fiction? Check out the Mercury “trilogy” (The Gringo, Laura Fedora) here. Also, go to Robert Brancatelli.
I’ll just try to be old school on this comment: Merry Christmas, Rob!
No school like the old school, Vic.